Some of the finest mixed drinks you could think of off the top of your head include wines as an ingredient, like Martinis or Manhattan cocktails, which both use vermouth, an aperitif wine. But what would you think of a drink that called for champagne… mixed with beer! As strange as it may sound to American audiences, the practice of mixing beer and ale with things like wine, champagne, brandy, and other spirits is not only a tradition; it is quite commonplace.
First up on our list of English beer cocktails is the Black Velvet, a hefty combination of champagne and stout (usually Guiness). I remember first stumbling across this beverage when it was ordered by James Bond at lunch during one of the early chapters of Diamonds Are Forever. According to English tradition, the stout is supposed to represent the lowly “common man”, whereas the champagne is indicative of “nobility”. Celebrated homebrewer Marty Nachel calls this comparison “a tired old stereotype” in his Beer For Dummies, but whatever the case may be, the legend persists. Along these same lines, a Brown Velvet is stout mixed with port wine (probably not as exciting as the crisp-carbonated Black Velvet, honestly). In Germany the recipe differs in that the beer used is schwarzbier, a dark lager, and an alternative name is used for the drink itself: “The Bismarck,” named after 19th century Minister-President of Prussia Otto von Bismarck.
Second only to the Black Velvet is the Brown Betty, a mixture of ale and brandy, served warm, often with spiced toast for dipping. However, a more modern variation, often called a “Brown Betty Punch”, simply combines many of the spices and other flavorings one would find on the toast as ingredients in the drink itself. In addition to ale and brandy, such a recipe might include ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, or even brown sugar, among other things. I was able to find this recipe online, which favors Bass as the ale of choice.
Chances are that even as strange a notion as blending beer may sound when looking at English recipes which mix wine or spirits with beer, few heavy weekend drinkers could claim ignorance to knowing what a “Boilermaker” consists of. Here in the states, a mixed beer cocktail maker is far more likely to cast aside fine wine or champagnes in favor of hard liquor, which is traditionally served in a seperate glass along with the beer in question. How the beverage is consumed is still up to the drinker, however; some prefer to chase a shot of bourbon or other spirit with the beer, while others drop the shot into the beer itself and commence chugging. Either way, this isn’t highly recomended for inexperienced drinkers, and as opposed to being intended as a fine beverage, this concotion is merely intended to get you drunk. You’ve been warned.
Whatever your taste may be, mixed beer drink recipes remain an English tradition… but don’t forget that, in a pinch, they can also offer unique ways to spice up almost any beer with leftover (or even fresh) spirits.